MILLVILLE — Normally when there’s a blowout in a football game between a 4A and a 5A school, one would expect the team in the lower classification to be on the wrong end of that contest.
But such was not the case Friday night as the Riverhawks took it to the visiting Farmington Phoenix, 45-7.
Kaden Cox starred on the night for the home team, running for three touchdowns in the first half alone. Ridgeline’s other first-half touchdown was also heavily influenced by Cox even though it doesn’t show in the scoring summary. On third-and-goal at the 7-yard line, Cox dropped back to pass and had to escape pressure by scrambling right. He dumped the ball off to Noah White but it was a backwards pass, making White’s eventual score technically a rushing score for the junior running back.
Cox didn’t gobble up yards on the ground, only gaining 13 net yards for the evening with half of that coming on a single run, but his red zone dominance helped the Riverhawks (2-0) score early and consistently.
Where the Riverhawks did generate yards was on the arm of Cox — who had 254 yards through the air on 22 of 34 passing — and the legs of White who had 74 yards on 16 carries and the score.
Head coach Travis Cox said he thought his team “found the holes in the middle of the defense” and were able to exploit those. In the pass game, coach Cox called numerous short pass plays focussed on yards after the catch. Jovesa Damuni, who had the most receiving yards for the Riverhawks, rarely caught a pass more than a few yards down the field but gained 103 yards on six catches, an average of 17.2 per reception.
“They just play so deep,” coach Cox said of Farmington’s pass defense philosophy. “They give the flats up, which a lot of teams do, and we just took what was there.”
The offense had its way for much of the game, but the defense had the more dominant outing. Farmington (1-2) averaged just 2.7 yards per play and only seven first downs by means other than penalties on Ridgeline. The only touchdown scored by the Phoenix came because of a Kaden Cox interception that set Farmington up with a first and goal inside the Ridgeline 5-yard line.
“We had a pretty good gameplan going in,” Coach Cox said. “We felt like we had a good idea of what they were going to do against us. Our kids executed well, we brought pressure when we thought we could and we stayed back when we didn’t think we could. We just executed the gameplan.”
The Riverhawks had seven tackles for loss and forced four turnovers — three picks and one fumble recovery. Those takeaways gave more fuel to the offense which, for all of the overall solid play struggled early in the second largely because they couldn’t stop committing penalties and putting themselves behind the sticks. Several of the great plays on offense were ones that helped the Riverhawks escape bad situations they put themselves in, such as a 45-yard pitch and catch from Cox to Damuni — though the impact of that great play which took Ridgeline to the 4-yard line was lessened when more penalties backed them up past the 20. The excess in turnovers forced helped reverse the backwards steps the offense had begun to take in the second half and truly turn the game into a comfortable blowout.
“The turnovers were huge, they’re always huge, but specifically tonight it was good in that second half” Coach Cox said. “We needed a spark and those turnovers gave us a spark.”
Friday night was a return from a longer-than-anticipated break for the Riverhawks. Their scheduled opponent for Week 2, Cyprus, canceled leaving Ridgeline without an opponent for the week. The coach joked that his players were “sick of practice” after going nearly two weeks without a game following Week 1, but was certainly grateful for the chance to play given the volatility of the season because of COVID-19.
“This season, honestly, whenever you can play a game it’s special,” Cox said. “You’ve got to enjoy every moment you have out here. You just never know and we learned that lesson last week.”
RIVERHAWKS 45, PHOENIX 7
Friday at Ridgeline
Farmington 0 0 7 0 — 7
Ridgeline 13 15 17 0 — 45
R — Kaden Cox 5 run (Carter Murdock kick), 8:46
R — Cox 1 run (kick fail), 2:41
R — Noah White 7 run (Murdock pass from Cox), 7:29
R — Cox 4 run (Murdock kick), 2:51
F — Boston Reinhold 1 run (Gavin Jensen kick), 10:00
R — Jaden Harris 9 run (Murdock kick), 6:44
R — FG 40 Murdock, 2:49
R — Strat Simmons 4 pass from Cox (Murdock kick), 0:54